January 2010

Good & Plenty

I think Good & Plenty is being criminally neglected in the candy aisle today.  This is simultaneously one of the best and one of the least popular candies.  Mention the name to any random stranger and they will scrunch up their face in childish disgust.

I think our collective dislike of Good & Plenty is indeed childish, stemming from a child's perspective.  I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, I loved Lik 'M Aid and Pixy Sticks.  I obviously was no judge of candy, much less an arbiter of taste.  Good & Plenty tasted like death to me back then.  But then again, so did things like coffee, bourbon, feta cheese, and Brussels sprouts - all of which I enjoy tremendously as an adult.  (Although not all together.)

Reese's Pieces

This must be the greatest advertising tie-in of all time.  Nearly 30 years later, I still think of E.T. whenever I think of Reese's Pieces, and vice versa.  In fact I would wager that if you are over the age of 20 or so, you thought of E.T. as soon as you saw the title of this post, correct?

Famously, M&Ms turned down Spielberg's advances for a tie-in.  Promotional appearances were new then, and M&Ms didn't want to get caught up in a backlash if there was one.  Reese's new candy Pieces had no such compunctions, and history was made.

Bake for Family Fun Month

What’s better than waltzing into the house and smelling that delicious aroma of—whatever is in the oven? From cookies to cakes to muffins to fresh bread, baking homemade treats both warms the house and the soul. This February, be sure to embark on a baking adventure with your family—whether for Valentine’s Day, a single night, or a month-long activity, it’s sure to bring you closer and provide many lasting memories.

To get started, decide what you want to bake and when. Are you going to bake something delicious for dinner, like homemade lasagna? How about something scrumptious for the school bake sale or Valentine’s Day, like raspberry brownies or a heart-shaped cookie cake? Whatever you choose, be sure to purchase all of your ingredients beforehand.

Everyone's Least Favorite Candy: Conversation Hearts

Of all the Least Favorite Candy I've tried during this little project, the Conversation Hearts are definitely the worst.  These things cost me a night's sleep, I kid you not.  I did my sampling a bit later at night than I should have, and then I made the mistake of washing them down with some Coke Zero.  Coke Zero + Conversation Hearts = Instant Stomach Evil.  

As I lay in bed, imagining the Mentos + Diet Coke experiment happening inside my guts, I had ample time to reflect upon the difference between Tums and Conversation Hearts.  The comparison is apt - if you set out one of each, I'm not sure I'd be able to distinguish, except on the basis of size and shape.  

Everyone's Least Favorite Candy: Orange Slices

Actually, of all the weird and worst-selling candy on the shelves, I think that "orange slices" are the candy people are most likely to stand up for.  Orange slices are not quite a gummy candy, although they belong to the same family.  They could more accurately be described as being large, strangely shaped gumdrops.  They are, as you might imagine, orange flavored.  Each slice is loosely orange slice shaped, and dusted with sugar granules.

Everyone's Least Favorite Candy: Circus Peanuts Edition

I'm going to start by stating the obvious: things are at the grocery store because people buy them.  Grocery stores are not in the business of stocking items that do not sell.  That's kind of the purpose.  Therefore, the fact that grocery stores stock Circus Peanuts means - stick with me here - that people buy them on a semi-regular basis.  Makes sense, right?  It's confusing at an emotional level, but it makes logical sense.

For those who live outside the scope of Circus Peanuts, they are a marshmallow-ish candy which is about the size of your thumb, shaped like a peanut, orange in color, and tastes like banana.  I know, right?  The only question which comes to mind fully formed is, "Why?"

Candy Fight: Nerds Vs Runts

One of the great philosophical divides among candy connoisseurs is the split between those who like Nerds, versus those who prefer Runts.  Oddly enough, in my experience there is no point trying to get Nerds lovers to like Runts, or vice versa.  In the interests of fostering an open dialogue, I will state for the record that I prefer Nerds.

The funny thing about the schism is that Nerds and Runts are pretty much the exact same candy, but in a different size and shape.  This is actually true of most of the Willy Wonka candy line, but nowhere is the similarity as remarkable as with Nerds and Runts.

Willy Wonka Candy Company, Everlasting Gobstoppers

Willy Wonka candies are one of the more confusing entrants on the candy scene.  Although we all associate Willy Wonka with the idea of the best candy in the world (and a lot of fun, and a certain dollop of grim tragedy besides) the candies produced under the name "Willy Wonka Candy Company" are in general pretty awful.

Take for example the Everlasting Gobstoppers.  In the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Everlasting Gobstoppers were literally everlasting.  Willy Wonka devised them for poor children, so that they could basically suck on the same piece of candy forever.  Kind of gross, okay, but even accounting for the hyperbole, there are some fine gobstoppers on the market today.  Most of these are sold singly, and will indeed threaten to break your teeth if you try to bite them.  

Chewy Fruit Candy: Mamba, Starburst, Skittles, and More

Reading Roger Ebert's latest essay "Nil By Mouth" got me thinking about the candy I liked as a kid.  The poignancy of his essay, about what he does and doesn't miss now that he is no longer able to eat after surgery for thyroid cancer, moved me to seek out some of my childhood favorites.  

Chewy fruit candies are one of the main classifications for candy in the 1970s and 1980s.  Some of these, like the giant chewy SweetTart (which was exactly as the name described - a giant, chewy, SweetTart) are no longer in production.  Others, like Mentos fruit candies, are still in production, but I have not yet been able to find any at the store.

Dessert Souffles

In a strange bit of synchronicity, it seems that we have all suddenly become swept up in Souffle Fever at the same time.  Last weekend while browsing one of my new cookbooks, I found a section on soufflés that made me curious to try one out.  (I'm still on the hunt for an affordable and reasonably sized soufflé dish.)  Then I happened to run across the New York Times article from the "The Minimalist" blog, where food writer Mark Bittman explains that when he asked people to tell him what they wanted to learn to cook for Valentine's day, "chocolate soufflé" came out on top by a wide margin.

Pate Au Choux - French Dessert Delights

I think of pate au choux as being a peculiarly 1980s dessert, because all of the cookbooks I have picked up from that time include it in their general dessert section, right alongside chocolate chip cookies and apple pie.  Which is pretty peculiar, considering that I'm pretty sure I have never been served a pate au choux dessert by a civilian.  (I have eaten many of them at restaurants and bakeries, though.  Many many.)

Despite my personal insistence that pate a choux is a 1980s dessert, it was actually invented in 1540 by a chef in the court of Catherine de Medici.  He used it to make a cake, and later French cooks tweaked the recipe.  In its final form, a baker used it to make little sweet buns, which were said to resemble cabbages, or choux.